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Nagisa Oshima

Nagisa Oshima

Japanese cinema’s preeminent taboo buster, Nagisa Oshima directed, between 1959 and 1999, more than twenty groundbreaking features. For Oshima, film was a form of activism, a way of shaking up the status quo. Uninterested in the traditional Japanese cinema of such popular filmmakers as Kurosawa, Ozu, and Naruse, Oshima focused not on classical themes of good and evil or domesticity but on outcasts, gangsters, murderers, rapists, sexual deviants, and the politically marginalized. He began as a studio filmmaker, and had a hit with the jazzy Cruel Story of Youth (1960), but left Shochiku when the powers that be there pulled his politically incendiary Night and Fog in Japan (1960) from circulation. Oshima then struck out on his own, becoming an independent director and even starting a production company, Sozo-sha, where he made such popular and aesthetically diverse films as the pinku eiga, or “pink film,” Pleasures of the Flesh (1965); Violence at Noon (1966), which contains more than two thousand cuts; Sing a Song of Sex (1967), a dreamlike investigation of libidinous, politically confused youth; and Death by Hanging (1969), a surreal, meditative film about social injustice. With his late-seventies international coproductions, the sexually graphic In the Realm of the Senses (1976) and the visually raw ghost story Empire of Passion (1978), Oshima became an art-house sensation in Europe and the U.S., riling moviegoers there much as he had at home. Made in 1999, Oshima’s final film, Taboo, a portrait of homosexual longing among samurai, is the perfect expression of his continued desire to provoke.